Decking markets hit hard in 2009

Though 2009 was a down year for most decking material manufacturers, some market segments, particularly cPVC boards, fared better than others. Still, top manufacturers are expecting more industry consolidations

January 31, 2010
If it isn't wood ...
Upcoming National Deck Safety Month

Though 2009 was a down year for most decking material manufacturers, some market segments, particularly cPVC boards, fared better than others. Still, top manufacturers are expecting more industry consolidations.

According to Exton, Pa.-based Principia Partners, the North American decking and railing market has declined from $4.6 billion in 2006 to $2.8 billion in 2009, with the wood plastic composite segment declining from $1.5 billion in sales to $630 million in that three-year time frame. Wood sales have fallen from $3.1 billion in 2005 to $1.6 billion, while cellular vinyl decking and fencing sales have increased from $5 million in 2004 to over $95 million in 2009, according to the firm's latest market report.

“We recently have had one client ask for PVC, another is using composite and another wanted ipe, all for different reasons,” says Pam Lamaster-Millett, AIA.

Brent Gwatney, vice president of sales and marketing for MoistureShield, expects 2010 to be as tight as 2009. "It's becoming a more price-conscious market. People might want a composite deck, but they want to hold onto their money as well. And we've seen that across the market in all building products," Gwatney says. He also predicts some market consolidation. "There are a lot of smaller composite board manufacturers. They're making a living at it, so they're doing something right. But I do expect some won't live through 2010."

"I actually thought we would've seen more consolidation," remarks Kevin Brennan, senior sales vice president for TimberTech. "Some players were bought out; others were resurrected. But it's still the Top 5 guys that represent something like 80 to 85 percent of the business. So the smaller guys will be battling it out," says Brennan, adding, "A lot of them have the right idea. Some have a better regional fit. Others are tied to a company that produces a full portfolio of building products."

Searl Lamaster Howe Architects' Principal Pam Lamaster-Millett, AIA, says, "We recently have had one client ask for PVC, another is using composite, and another wanted ipe, all for different reasons. From my experience, the benefit of wood is that carpenters know how to work with it, and they can make it do almost anything you want.

"The PVC has also come out with structural components for use in framing the deck, something composites have not been able to do. We used the PVC in a high humidity area because nothing will grow in it. So if you want a sustainable solution, it probably isn't going to fit."

A number of manufacturers have begun offering cPVC choices at comparable or slightly higher prices than composite boards.

Terry Hillery, president of The Hillery Holding Co., also reports an uptick of cPVC use.

"Wood is the least expensive to construct, but the stains often last a couple of years and then the buyer or homeowner comes back to you to fix it, or they think that you just didn't do it right," he says, adding that since wood is a natural product, it will always encounter issues with splitting and expansion/contraction. Hillery also says that many of his clients just are not fans of the green hue of pressure-treated lumber.

Lamaster-Millet says specifying which products to use is tricky. "I don't know if supply is driving by the fact that deck building and design is still a very DIY market, but I have found many manufacturers unable or unwilling to provide us with samples of their product. We rely heavily on local suppliers and retailers, so I find myself writing specs with 'or equal' a lot."

Hillery says his company is in the process of installing a 635-square-foot roof deck in Boston. All of the decking will be PVC from the Passport line from Gossen Mouldings (the company also uses Azek).

"PVC is generally 15–20 percent more than wood and about the same as composite. So, on the 635 square-foot deck, that's about $500 extra for a deck that could last 40–50 years," he says.

"Composite is not bad, but we have experienced staining issues. A couple of years back we had a black trash bag that sat on the decking for a couple of weeks and stained the deck," Hillery observes. In another instance, he says, the deck faded from UV exposure in areas that there was not furniture."


If it isn't wood ...

  • Purchase your materials from a reputable dealer or home improvement center that will be there to back up the products they sell. Be sure to understand the warranty periods and conditions.
  • Consider a matching railing kit from the manufacturer.
  • The directions may say "No pre-drilling is required," but our sources recommend installers pre-drill the holes with a drill/countersink bit.
  • Correct curvatures as you install the boards. Everyone's method is different, but snapping chalk lines and tack nails to the deck joist along the chalk lines between the planks will help you keep the spacing correct.
  • Always leave 3/16 inch between composite deck boards to allow for drainage.

Upcoming National Deck Safety Month

May is National Deck Safety Month. According to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA), between 2000 and 2008 there were at least 30 deaths reported as a direct result of deck collapses. More than 75 percent of people on a deck when it collapses are injured or killed. With 40 million decks in the United States that are more than 20 years old, the NADRA says it's important to check decks.

NADRA says some older decks may only have deck-to-house attachments using only nails and other glaring faults. Though NADRA recommends ASHI-certified home inspectors, a knowledgeable deck builder can remedy a deck up to state code, licensing and insurance requirements.

NADRA released a four-page deck evaluation checklist for contractors rehabbing or installing a new deck. Questions include:

  1. Is the ledger attached to an acceptable wood rim joist?
  2. What is the foundation type? Post size?
  3. What is the post-to-concrete connection?
  4. Wat is the post-to-beam connection? Has the connection been bent or modified?
  5. Regarding the joist: does the hanger have double-shear nailing? Are the correct nails installed in the hangers?
  6. What supports the stairs? Rise/run?
  7. On composite decks, if it is a hidden fastener system, what lateral support has been provided?
  8. Are all fasteners properly seated and flush with the connection?
  9. Are all connector holes property filled?

Find the deck evaluation form at

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